As in previous years, Falls Church students performed well on state-mandated standardized tests during the past school year, again leading the rest of Northern Virginia in scores on several tests at some grade levels.

However, about 15 percent of sixth-graders failed the written portion of a newly required exam that assesses the degree of literacy of sixth-graders in writing, reading and mathematics. In the two previous years, when the three Literacy Passport tests were administered on a trial basis, only about 6 percent of test takers failed the writing section.

"The big thing that hits me this year is the large percentage of students that did not pass the writing test," said Jerome Bruns, director of pupil services. "It is especially amazing to me because a very high percentage passed reading and math, so it is really discrepant."

About 85 percent of city sixth-graders passed the writing test, while about 94 percent passed mathematics and about 95 percent passed reading. About 79 percent of test takers passed all three tests. Among neighboring jurisdictions, only Fairfax County students performed better, with about 89 percent of test takers passing the writing test and about 81 percent passing all three tests. The state requires students to pass all three tests before entering high school.

After talking to the teachers of those students who failed the writing test, Bruns concluded that "at least half the students who failed have the skills to pass . . . . They just didn't take the test well that day." Bruns said that teachers will analyze each student who failed a test and offer remedial help.

For the most part, fourth- and eighth-graders led the region at their grade levels in reading, math, science and other skills measured by the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Fourth-graders led Northern Virginia in math and science, scoring in the 85th percentile, or better than 85 of every 100 fourth-graders nationwide who took those tests.

The class trailed the rest of the region in a test of language achievement, scoring in the 65th percentile, but surpassed the state average by three percentile points. Loudoun County fourth-graders produced the highest scores in the area on the language test, scoring in the 72nd percentile.

Eighth-graders performed ahead of the region in vocabulary, work-study, social studies and science, scoring between the 74th and 81st percentile on those tests, but lagged by up to seven percentile points behind Fairfax County and Arlington County in math (70th percentile) and language uses (69th percentile).

"On these scores . . . there aren't any significant surprises. The lowest scores tend to be spelling and capitalization, under language uses," said Bruns. "Our students do best on reasoning skills as opposed to concrete applications. They score very well on knowledge of social studies and science."

On the Test of Achievement and Proficiency required of 11th-graders, city students surpassed other area jurisdictions in social studies (76th percentile) and science (79th percentile). City 11th-graders ranked second, a few percentile points behind Fairfax County, in reading (68th percentile), math (70th percentile), writing (70th percentile) and sources of information (71st percentile).

Falls Church first-graders scored highest in the region in two of three tests of cognitive abilities, including in the 80th percentile on verbal abilities and in the 77th percentile on quantitative abilities. The class scored in the 78th percentile on nonverbal abilities, behind Arlington County (81st percentile) and Fairfax and Loudoun counties (79th percentile).